Monday, December 12, 2022

Should I Keep Looking?


Matthew 11:2-11

Advent 3 / Year A

Have you ever felt let down by God?  Have you ever been that low, that discouraged, that disappointed?  I suspect most of us can look back on a time when we wondered what God was doing in our life.  If so, today’s gospel reading is for you. 

John the Baptist is in prison for speaking out against King Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife.  He is a political prisoner.  God had called him to prepare the way for the Messiah and when he met Jesus he believed he had found the person he was expecting.  Do you remember from last week’s lesson how John described what the Messiah would do?  He was going to be an ax-chopping, winnowing fork swinging, flamethrower who would do all the dirty work necessary to make God’s world right again. 

Now in prison and surely suspecting his life is in danger, he gets word from his followers about what Jesus is actually up to.  While John expected an action hero, Jesus, it turns out, has little children sit on his lap and tells cute stories about looking for a lost lamb.  And so John sends a question to Jesus: “Are you who I thought you were, or should I keep looking?”  Can you hear how disappointed he is?

There are times when disappointment is a very appropriate response, like when someone gives you his word but doesn’t follow through.  Still, most disappointment is rooted in unrealistic expectations.  I once served a parish with cavernous worship space, easily seating 450 people.  Sunday after Sunday it swallowed the 75 folks who attended.  As Christmas Eve drew near I got more and more excited about the possibility of having a “packed house.”  By chance, I went back through the registry of services and discovered the typical size of the congregation on Christmas Eve was around 120 – better than Sundays to be sure, but nowhere near what I envisioned.  I was disappointed to be sure, but at least my expectations became more closely aligned with reality.

It is also easy to be disappointed when you are not in a good place in life.  John is in prison and you can be sure this contributes mightily to his discouragement.  For you, it may be a health crisis or financial hardship or problems at work or a souring relationship or any of a host of other challenges.  Just as it is more difficult to be cheerful on overcast day than when the sun is shining and the sky is blue, it is more likely you will feel discouraged when something important in life is not going right.

So John is in a difficult place and his unrealistic expectations are not being met.  He sends word to Jesus, “Are you the one or should I keep looking?”

Notice how Jesus responds.  He quotes the prophet Isaiah:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” 

In so doing, he says, “I am the one you were looking for, but your expectations about what I am going to do are way off.”  The bible does not report John’s response, but I trust his eyes opened to a new possibility he had not envisioned before.

Do you know the difference between Santa Claus and Jesus?  Well, when you send Santa a list of the all the things you want for Christmas, he sets his elves to work and tries his best to give you everything you want.  That is Santa’s job – to give you what you want.  But not Jesus.  Jesus is all about giving you want you need, even if you don’t want it.  And sometimes, getting what you need and not what you want will leave you discouraged and disappointed.    

We have a word to describe a child who always gets everything he or she wants – spoiled.  And we have words to describe a child who receives everything he or she needs – mature and well adjusted

All of this is to say, when you feel discouraged and let down – especially by God – do these three things:

· Take stock of what is happening in your life.  Is there a hardship or struggle making this particular challenge more difficult to endure?

· Articulate your expectations.  What did you think was going to happen?  In what ways might you have set yourself up for a fall?

· Ponder what actually happened.  What blessings might be obscured because you were hoping for something else?

All of this a way of saying pray about it.  Even though John’s question to Jesus is rooted in disillusionment, Jesus receives it and responds warmly and honestly.  You and I can count on nothing less.